After the kids have flown
Despite the abundance of tweets protesting the expense and energy involved in raising these little humans, every parent testifies to the transitory jolt that occurs when the house is finally quiet”
Whenalkamelwani’sonlychild, Sharon, returned to Dubai to continue her studies, the 56year- old could barely handle the inexplicable feeling of loss that followed. The family had lived in the UAE for about 20 years prior to their move to Bombay in 2008, and although Alka had been enjoying the “peak” of her career at the time, she felt it would be good for her daughter to return to her roots in India.
Things didn’t quite work out as planned, as Sharon ended up moving back to Dubai for her Master’s (“Pune wasn’t her scene”), leaving Alka feeling incredibly “empty”. Those were rough days, says the former career woman. “I locked up her room for a long time… Only the maid entered it every now and then to clean and close it again. I couldn’t believe I’d ended up in a place where I didn’t know anyone and without the person I’d come back for, in the first place. It was a lot of emotional upheaval. Nine months is not long enough to settle down in India, Although the empty nest syndrome is not recognised As A clinical condition, its symptoms cannot be ignored. if you’re newly childfree, there Are ways to keep depression At bay
and finding my way around the place kept me busy, but the emptiness [ of not having Sharon with me] ate me up.”
Psychologists recognise those symptoms as typical of the empty nest syndrome — the feeling of grief and loss that parents experience when all their children have flown the coop and their lives no longer revolve entirely around attending to those kids’ needs. Despite the abundance of humour columns and tweets protesting the expense and energy involved in raising these ‘ little monsters’ ( er, humans), almost every parent testifies to the transitory jolt that occurs when the house is finally quiet.
The responses to dealing with being newly childfree differ from person to person too. In Alka’s case, she threw herself into her new surroundings, fix- ing up her house, travelling, and even creating work if she didn’t have any, just so she’d be “super tired” enough to fall asleep as soon as she hit the pillow at the end of the day. “I was trying to shut my mind from thinking about anything,” she admits. “My husband was constantly around. He coped in his own way; I took a lot longer. If he said he missed her once, I’d have said it ten times in the same minute. But he reminded me that we made a decision as a family and it was for the best.”
There’s not a day that doesn’t start and end with talking to her daughter now, says Alka. The couple also found solace in visiting their daughter on special occasions — till Sharon suggested a business venture to keep them even more connected. That’s how Kash Kouture, an Indian ready- to- wear fashion brand, made its international debut last year on Mother’s Day. The collaboration means that Alka and her husband are now in town every three months, helping to showcase collections at various exhibitions around town, and it’s certainly made being apart a lot easier. “It’s still a bit of an emotional rollercoaster,” says Alka. “It always takes me a couple of days to get my bearings once I’m back in India ( and when I do, she’s still not there) — but it helps to know I’ll be back with her in three months.”
Though she believes she was too impulsive in moving back to India, Alka says she understands the part she has to play now. “It would be selfish of me to insist that she leave her life in Dubai and come back for me. You have to let your kids follow their dreams. You don’t want to be responsible for them not being happy. Don’t get me wrong,” she adds. “I have everything here — good friends, a good base, good climate, good doctors — it’s just one part of me
that’s missing. But it was meant to be, so I’m learning to accept it, live for the moment and carry on.”
A new child to love Studies say the effects of the empty nest syndrome seem to be far more on stay- at- home parents, especially mums. For homemaker Gayatri Hariharan, her world revolved around her two sons for more than 20 years. Then in 2012, her older son Abhishek decided to move to the States to pursue a Master’s degree in robotics, while the younger followed the year after to do his post graduation in advertising. And that was quite a change.
“Suddenly, I didn’t know what to do with all the extra time on my hands,” recalls the soft- spoken mum. She was proud of the boys and all that they were accomplishing, but she was also having to grapple with a new sort of identity — one that didn’t involve seeing to her kids all the time. That’s when Zuma, the “gorgeous golden retriever”, came into their lives.
“We are dog lovers,” says Gayatri. “But we were sceptical about getting one in this part of the world. Zuma sort of landed in our laps. Her family was moving away and couldn’t take her with them. They rang the bell and… our hearts just melted when we saw her. I needed to have a child to take care of,” continues the Indian expat. “And Zuma was just six months old at the time. She was so scared and timid at first, but she’s so full of joy now.”
The couple’s lives revolve around their “daughter” these days. “We schedule our day around her mealtimes and walks. We can’t always go on holidays, because we don’t like to leave her behind. People laugh when I call her my daughter, but we were missing a daughter in the family and she’s more than replaced that void.”
Apart from growing their family, Gayatri says she keeps busy by reading much more, trying to catch up with friends she hasn’t seen in years, attending weddings and functions, and otherwise discovering herself in her own way. “I’m quite happy,” she asserts. “I’ve started looking at things differently. When you’re younger, you don’t really think about how your children will move away from you someday. But there is a time when you have to let go.”
Getting over that feeling comes with the confidence that they’re going to be okay, she notes. “If you don’t allow them to fly, you’re holding back their growth. So, the key is to think positively. Start a hobby: maybe blogging; you could even try a bit of social work. I started doing a little gardening myself — some tomatoes, chillies, flowers, etc. It’s a new life — but it’s a great chance to grow.” dads feel it too Technically, Iranian expat Farahnaz Nouri has only had a taster of what the empty nest syndrome feels like — but even that was tough. About six years ago, the family started making plans to immigrate to Canada and sent their two boys ahead to begin their degree studies, so they wouldn’t need to be uprooted in the middle of a course once visas came through. But the older one, Reza, now 25, returned after six months.
It was really hard while they were both away though, says Farahnaz. “I’d look around the house but, of course, they weren’t there. I couldn’t see them, or talk to them anytime I wanted, like I used to. They felt really far away and it got really lonely.” It didn’t help that the time zones between Dubai and Canada are vastly different. “I used to wake up around 2 or 3am, just so I could message them or talk to them.”
Though her routine didn’t change much after the boys left, the 43- year- old still set about trying to keep herself occupied. “I busied myself with friends, spent time with my husband in Iran, started studying again… I actually went ahead and completed an MBA in strategic management too.”
It helped a lot when one of the boys returned and settled back in Dubai, but Farahnaz counts the days till she can see the younger lad, Saeid, again. “It’s been about two years and 10 months since I last saw him. I dream of the day we can all have dinner together again… spend time as a family… I miss all of that.”
The general assumption i s that women feel the loss of their kids far more than men. “To be honest, I thought that was the case too,” she says. “But I realised it’s been harder for my husband than for me. He has a lot of business in Iran, so he’s constantly travelling, but he actually does miss them far more than me… Maybe it’s because once they grew up, they could relate to each other much more. I think he misses being able to talk to them as much. Unlike me though, my husband doesn’t bother with time zones,” she laughs. “I’m always calculating the time in Canada, wondering whether he’s in class or sleeping. My husband will call him right up, whenever he feels like a chat.”
Almost six years on, the family’s visas have still not come through. “I understand that this is our life now,” says the mum- of- two. “Some things are not in our hands, and we cannot choose how life turns out. For now, technology really helps us stay in touch.” That’s one thing she says she noticed during her last trip to Canada: kids can get pretty lonely too being so far away from home. Her advice to parents: keep in touch as much as you can. It closes the distance — to some extent — on both sides.
karen@ khaleejtimes. com